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Broken Back

When many people hear the words “broken back”, they assume that this is immediately a fatal condition. However, that isn’t always the case. In fact, many people have broken backs and continue living with the problem. However, this doesn’t mean broken backs should be taken lightly. They can lead to severe pain, ligament damage, dislocation of the vertebrae and spinal cord damage. If not handled properly, even what may seem like a minor break could lead to problems such as paralysis.

While broken backs often occur from trauma like car accidents or falls in young, healthy individuals, in elderly individuals, they can occur simply from compression fractures. This refers to a break that happens simply because of the constant pressure on the spinal column. Compression fractures are very common among the elderly due to the prevalence of osteoporosis.

Symptoms of a Broken Back

The symptoms of a spinal compression fracture specifically include the following:

  • Severe back pain that comes on suddenly. At times, symptoms may appear gradually, but the pain usually goes unnoticed until it is severe.
  • Pain that gets worse when standing or sitting with relief from the pain while lying down.
  • Pain that occurs from bending or twisting specifically.
  • Changes in height that may actually be noticeable.
  • Spinal deformities, such as a curve shape.

Many people do not even realize they have a broken back but they experience pain when they bend down to pick up something, slip or stumble, lift groceries or suitcases, or bend to change bedding.

Multiple Compression Fractures

If there are multiple fractures, which can occur in elderly individuals especially, then the symptoms can also include the following:

  • Obvious loss of height
  • Curvature of the back
  • Stomach upset including weight loss and constipation
  • Pain in the hips
  • Difficulty breathing

The Treatment

There are treatments for broken backs that do not even involve any type of surgical procedure. In fact, usually, treatments are very conservative. Quite often, broken backs can heal with rest and pain medication. Other times, specific treatment will be needed if the break is more severe.

Many types of treatments will involve specialized braces that will keep the spine or neck immobile during the healing process. This maintains the spinal alignment and keeps movement to a minimum so that the broken bone will have time to heal. There are braces available for all parts of the back, including the Miami J for the neck, the Minerva for the upper back, and the TLSO for the lower back.

Vertebroplasty involves stabilizing the bone with a low viscosity cement that is injected into the collapsed vertebrae. The purpose of this is to stabilize the back and reduce pain and discomfort.

Kyphoplasty involves stabilizing the bone in a minimally invasive manner. Neither one of these two require surgery, so they do not carry the risk of further damage or infection. In very rare cases, surgery will be needed in order to properly set the bones or even fuse to vertebrae together so that they do not continue to cause problems or affect the spinal cord in any way.

Because broken backs are so common in elderly individuals, if you have a loved one in a nursing home, you will want to pay close attention to their pain and discomfort levels. If you believe your loved one has a broken back, then contact a medical professional as soon as possible. Additionally, you may wish to consider getting in contact with an attorney. Just make sure you choose a lawyer who specializes in elder abuse or nursing home neglect and abuse. That way, you will have the best chance of winning a case and looking after the rights of your loved one.

Resources:

http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/guide/spinal-compression-fractures-symptoms

http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/osteoporosis/compression-fracture-treatment

http://www.mayfieldclinic.com/PE-SpineFract.HTM#.VYjoHvlViko

 

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